NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The symbol that's scaring away almost $500 million of Halloween sales is hidden somewhere in this sentence. Did you spot it?

If not, here's a clue: 17% of adults said in a survey released by the National Retail Federation that they would adjust their Halloween plans because of concerns about the U.S. economy, and the vast majority of those indicated that it would make them spend a bit less than usual. Which would make Fright Night's scariest symbol not a pitchfork or a vampire's fangs (or even a light saber), but a dollar sign.

On the upside, the U.S. market doesn't scare all that easily. Consumers will still spend about $6.9 billion on costumes from ghosts and goblins to Batman and Superman as well as candy and decorations, the federation's Halloween Consumer Spending Survey indicates. Average spending will be $74.34 a person, down from $77.52 last year.

That's welcome news for retailers like Party City  (PRTY) , which use Halloween to jump-start sales in the fourth quarter, typically the industry's most lucrative period because it includes holiday shopping. Last year, Amazon (AMZN) , Wal-Mart (WMT)  and other retailers started marking down items as early as Nov. 1, nearly a month before Black Friday, which traditionally starts the Christmas shopping season.

Half of Americans, wanting to save money, say discount stores are the first place they will go for Halloween goodies.  Discount retailer Five Below  (FIVE) is advertising accessories from film franchises like Batman, Star Wars, and Minions that cost less than $5, appealing to children and teens, but its revenue may be curbed by the lack an online sales option.

Almost 17 percent of American said they will purchase their Halloween paraphernalia online, according to the survey. Amazon, the largest Internet-based retailer in the U.S., is featuring a "Halloween Shop," where customers can get 20% off costumes. 

Among the most popular costumes this year -- for adults, kids and yes, pets -- are Batman characters, coinciding with the early 2016 release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which Ben Affleck takes over the role of the Caped Crusader, joined by Henry Cavill as Superman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. 

Outfits from Universal Pictures' Minions and Star Wars, the franchise that popularized characters like Princess Leia and Darth Daver, also made the cut, the survey reported. For the 11th year in a row, witch costumes were the No. 1 choice for adults and animals. For children? A princess ensemble, also for the 11th year in a row.

Altogether, $2.5 billion will be spent on adult, children, and pet costumes, followed by $2.1 billion on candy, $1.9 billion on decorations, and $330 million on greeting cards, according to the survey.

Halloween is typically an indicator of discretionary spending over the holidays, said Chris Rowland, CEO of Pet Supplies Plus, a closely held retailer that offers pet costumes.

Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, so expect more parties and decorations. The holiday accounted for nearly 25% of domestic retail sales in 2014 for event-supplier Party City, which went public in April. 

Also operating under the name "Halloween City," the company is trying to lure customers from Wal-Mart and Target (TGT) , whose costume selections aren't as diversified. Party City's stock has declined nearly 2% over the last month, to $16.15, but it still outperformed the S&P 500 Index. 

Pet costumes are becoming increasingly popular, particularly Batman characters, pumpkins and hot dogs; one in 10 pet owners who took the survey said they plan to dress-up their cats or dogs.

"This continues a theme we are seeing with people and pets, as they are looking to share the special moments that occur during the year not only with their loved ones but with their pet family members," said Rowland, the Pet Supplies Plus chief. "Halloween is just one of these occasions, and we are continuing to see nice growth in this category."

PetSmart (PETM) , the Phoenix, Az.-based company discussing a merger with Petco Holdings, also plans to take full advantage. The specialty pet retailer is offering an in-store Halloween event, pet-friendly treats, and other accessories. 

More than 40% of Americans surveyed say they will begin their shopping during the first two weeks in October.

"Given that more than a third of Americans enjoy taking advantage of early-bird deals to kick off their fall celebrations, it seems there's plenty of appetite among consumers to enjoy a perfectly 'frightful' Halloween," said Pam Goodfellow, a principal analyst with Prosper Insights, which conducted the retail federation's survey.

 

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